We needed to do more than to find a dream spot along the Lopori to set up our camp and start building castles in the sky! So the following day we set off for Kodoro to meet the chief of the group of villages that Elonda is a part of. The expedition began under a threatening sky. Never mind! We didn’t have time to wait for better weather!
We also spent a day increasing awareness in one of the big secondary schools in Basankusu. Six hundred students were waiting for us in the school-yard. It was 11 am… we were almost bang-on the equator, there were no shadows to be seen! We did a presentation followed by questions and answers lasting two hours overall, with teenagers who, like all other teenagers in the world, did not want to make it easy for us.
After Pierrot had greeted the assembly, I immediately set about defusing the palpable tension due to the presence of a white woman among them. I am used to it by now, I needed to let them know that I was not just another “Strange visitor passing through” but a “Mwana Mboka”, as we say here, a child of the country. A bit of banter, which went down well and the use of a jargon equivalent to theirs, something, which these Africans, with all their prejudgements, never expect. That’s the secret of my communication. They were not African children from Basankusu, but teenagers, without a label of colour or race and with the same attitudes as those from all around the world.
And it worked! After a few minutes, Pierrot and I were taking it in turns to answer the multitude of questions that they had. What enthusiasm! The sun beat down on us all and eventually the headmaster told us we should leave, or else we would be there till nightfall! The children from the biochemistry section followed us with one last question, and another…and yet another… “Mission accomplished!” stated Pierrot dabbing his forehead with a tissue. We promised to come and visit the school again, class by class, the following week. In the meantime I promised three copies of my book “Une Tendresse Sauvage” to the students in their final year, offering to come back a few weeks later to discuss it. A good opportunity to knock down the wall of tenacious prejudgements.